(The Grip of Belief)
In Physics class the Professor gathers his students together on the first day of school in the gymnasium for a stunning demonstration in what he terms "absolute certainty."
The class is naturally intrigued, curious and eager to observe.
From the metal joist supports in the gym ceiling a cable is hanging all the way to eye-level in the center of the space; like a fireman's pole. But, at the end of this cable is a 100lb metal wrecking ball! What is this all about?
The Professor begins his demonstration.
"In science there are things we are so certain of we call them LAWS. They are beyond refutation. Scientists depend on them and you should too.
For example..." the Professor walks over to the wrecking ball and continues talking...
"Sir Isaac Newton discovered the principle that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is called a LAW of MOTION." The Professor gazes around at the students who are still anticipating something extraordinary to come.
"There is also a Law of Conservation of Energy. All it means is that you never get more out of a system than you put into it. In other words, there is no free ride!"
Then with a sly smile he concludes: "Who believes what I said is true?"
All hands go up easily. The Professor smiles.
"How many of you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN?"
Nobody hesitates; all hands stay up.
"Very well, let me test your convictions about certainty and belief. I need a volunteer."
An athletic jock-type student ambles forward with a mock macho swagger.
"Okay, here is what I'm going to do. I'm going to have you step 10 feet back away from this 100 lb. wrecking ball."
The student complies despite the sniggering and smart aleck comments of his class mates.
"Now, I'm going to push this ball forward until it is one inch from your nose."
The Professor grabs the ball and pushes slowly as he walks toward the student until the ball almost touches his face.
"I am going to let go of this wrecking ball and it is going to swing backward all the way to the other side about 10 feet and pause and move forward again BACK TOWARD YOUR FACE."
The jock shakes his head like he's just heard really unbelievably bad news. The students grow loud and agitated.
"Since you believe that the Law of Conservation will not allow this ball to come any closer than it is now, you cannot possibly have your head smashed to a bloody pulp by the impact. For that would mean more energy somehow crept into the system; which science tells us is impossible."
Immediately the volunteer vanishes back into the crowd who "boo's" him unmercifully.
"Anybody else want to show their faith in science?" Several candidates are unwillingly offered by the crowd but each one shakes loose and declines in protest.
"Very well then. I myself will demonstrate Absolute Certainty."
And with that the Professor holds the ball in front of his nose and lets go.
The ball arcs directly away from him in a ponderously slow heave across the gym and pauses 20 feet away. With the sure swiftness of a freight train it hurls ominously forward on a dead ahead path toward the Professor's fragile skull! At the last possible millisecond the ball pauses at maximum arc a little more than an inch from his outstretched nose and swings ever back again!
Dead silence, then groans, screams and a cheer as the dramatic demonstration came to a close. Thunderous applause ensued as the students hailed the extreme bravery of their Professor.
"Why are you cheering? It was impossible that I could be hurt. I knew that but you didn't know it. Why? Because my Absolute Certainty trumps your so-called "belief." You said you believed the Laws of Conservation but, you only had a weak shadow of it in your mind. You were actually shocked and amazed when I wasn't fractured into bits!"
"Until you recognize the difference between "thinking" something is true and absolutely "believing" it--you haven't learned today's lesson at all."
How do animals (or humans) learn?
Cause and effect make a huge impression on the brain. In effect: IF I do THIS, then (I observe) THAT happens. RITUAL behavior is born.
In certain primitive societies it is believed that dancing brings rain. This belief stems from the fact somebody (long, long ago) was dancing when rain broke out.
The next time there was a drought, dancing was begun.
If no rain came it did NOT disprove the belief. No, it Reinforced it!
How? The dance was continued (as long as it took) until the rain came and the ritual was proved to be true! Ritual trumped reality!
Today in laboratories, mice and pigeons are trained to perform certain ritual behaviors and then given a reward of food when the ritual is completed.
But, notice this! If the reward is DIScontinued... the ritual behavior continues and even INCREASES!
This is what research scientists actually call "Superstition."
The mouse or pigeon superstitiously continues a worthless behavior because the conditioning won't go away; behavior continues long after the disproof of its worth!
Among human beings the same course is often observed. A man will win a bowling tournament wearing a certain shirt and immediately the shirt becomes part of a superstitious belief system; a ritual. The shirt is now his "lucky" shirt. He won't bowl without it!
The brain is conditioned so easily mainly because a ritual behavior that produces food seldom does any harm. It costs only time and little energy. In short: the "possibility" of reward outweighs the loss of time and energy in performing a superstitious ritual.
Further, statistical analysis of the accuracy of "intuitive" or "gut" feeling predictions show them to be wrong 85% of the time! Yet, the majority of people continue to place far more TRUST in these methods than in rational analysis.
Perhaps it can be compared to skydiving. The skydiver has faith their parachute will open and consequently leaps out of an airplane and plunges headlong toward destruction below. All this is done for the absolute thrill of sensation and the rush of endorphins. Flirtation with death and taking control of one's mortality brings a tidal wave of ecstatic emotion! After such a leap the skydiver often reports they "have never felt more alive!"
SAY NO! to the drug of absolute certainty.
The costs are the really "high."
From my book: I WEPT BY THE RIVERS of BABYLON
( A Prisoner of Conscience in a Time of War).
Note: For some reason, Amazon has increased the price on my books.
It can be obtained cheaper at Lulu.com